Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash
Grace is kind of a funny word.
In some people groups and traditions, it has a very specific meaning, and for others, it can seem like a vague and strange word that people use.
The most common place I have seen it used outside of religious spaces tends to be on my stickers and planners with encouraging words – the phrase “Bloom with Grace” comes up more frequently than you might expect!
For me, Grace is a central piece of how I am able to function and sustain in my life and work; I couldn’t be who I am or do what I do without the practice of Grace, both FOR me and FROM me.
This month, I’m going to be walking through the concept of Grace as it applies to the caregiving and compassion journey that many of us are on. As mentioned before, my word of the year is Rooted, and this month’s theme, Grace, was something I selected back in late 2021, having no idea what this year would hold.
As is often the case, already the month has presented me with opportunities to wrestle with this word and ponder if my actions and responses are rooted in Grace, or not.
So, what is Grace?
When I asked some of my friends, their exposure to the word tended to fall in with the concept of graciousness, like “a gracious hostess,” which makes sense to me. Some tied it with “a gracious response” or “a grace period,” and yet others said, “that’s kind of a weird word.”
I kind of agree.
I think it can feel weird to us when we haven’t had many experiences of receiving it or, as I think might more often be the case, we didn’t have the experience tied to the language, so we’re not able to recognize it as Grace. What a great example of the danger of using esoteric and abstract language without giving a practical experience to give those words meaning and context; we do that way too much.
The best way I can articulate Grace is to say that it is the practice of creating space for ourselves and others to acknowledge the true limitations of our human capacity without shame and guilt.
When we apply Grace to ourselves, we realize that we may have overpromised ourselves or others in an effort to meet an expectation that isn’t aligned with our current capabilities. If something in a plan goes awry, when we take stock of what supports we have, what tools are in place, what internal resources are available, and what skills are developed, we can often see that we are trying to function beyond our current capacity.
Is that a bad thing?
I don’t think so (in most cases – as long as there is no irreparable damage done), because that is how we learn where our growing edges reside for that time. It allows us to develop and expand our learning and skills.
Process and Production
The problem I see is that we have a cultural expectation that pushes so hard toward production and immediate success that the value of healthy growth is often dismissed. If we are focused on the product and outcome, we miss the importance of the process.
The process is what shapes us, not the product.
The process is what reminds us that we are not in a vacuum but are impacted by and can have an impact on others.
The process is what creates new ways of understanding that expand both individual and collective capacities for learning, growing, and bringing the fullness of ourselves into relationships and communities.
But focusing only on the product or outcome as the highest value brings with it the danger of a few key things:
- Dehumanization – when we don’t know ourselves or others as human beings but only as a resource to accomplish a task, we remove the experience of the true essence of a human. We are meant for relationship, for bringing good things to this world, and for connecting and building things that reflect our diverse strengths and perspectives. We are not resources; we are humans. We have needs and challenges and amazing wisdom and insights – each and every one of us, regardless of circumstances – and that humanness is messy AND essential.
- Disconnection – if the task is more important than the relationship, we will miss the experience of connecting with others in both joy and sorrow. Yes, problem-solving can happen individually and tasks don’t always need a committee (note: they hardly ever need a committee, truly – a group of people who are open to discussion will do just fine for complex matters), but we are richer when we learn from each other’s perspectives and it changes us. No, really. Our capacity expands when our understanding expands, which happens best in supportive relationships. But when we avoid this our of fear, we miss the opportunity to connect on many levels, leaving our solutions less robust and deep.
- Despair – sometimes, we just can’t get it right, and if there isn’t grace present in the process, we can become hopeless that there isn’t an answer to be found, or even worse, we can begin to believe that we don’t have value because we can’t quite get to the solution or produce the thing. How often have you heard someone call themselves an “idiot” or “stupid” when they didn’t accomplish a task? It seems an automatic response for those who have experienced a devaluation by others if expectations are unmet – a response based on a script that plays over and over and reinforces a lack of value. Living without value and worth is untenable and leads to despair, depression, and hurt.
Be careful how you speak to yourself and others. Words write a script on the hearts and souls of people; that script communicates values to the mind and defines the meaning of existence.
The extension of Grace to ourselves comes when we reflect on our growing edges, our strengths, and where we need additional support. Suppose we have been in situations where we consistently hear a message that our value is in what we produce or do. In that case, Grace may not be a well-developed practice for us, especially if this message comes from our family of origin or our primary caregivers because we have not experienced that level of Grace from them. It’s tough to give what we don’t have for ourselves.
What about standards?
Does that mean we don’t hold ourselves accountable?
Nope. In fact, it IS holding ourselves accountable because we are telling the full truth about what we can and cannot do, as well as where we need support from outside of ourselves [Spoiler Alert: We usually need some level of support from outside of ourselves – capacity is built in relationship].
Developing this practice of Grace for ourselves means that we have increased capacity for extending it to others, which in turn increases their capacity. See why this is so important?
In the following weeks, I’ll be expanding several of these concepts in my posts, and I encourage you to take a moment to think about how you experience Grace in your life and contexts – please feel free to share below as we all learn from each other!
Until next time….